Read Miranda's War Online

Authors: Howard; Foster

Miranda's War (7 page)

The backlights were on. It was dark now, and Alicia would be surfing the Internet in bed. At six months into her pregnancy, she had no interest in campaigning. He entered through the back door, closest to the garage, and told the housekeeper, who usually stayed until 9, to go home for the day.

“They released me early today,” he said to Alicia in the bedroom.

“You mean nobody else in the entire Third Congressional District wants to write you a check?”

“Nobody wanted to write a check the day I got into this, but I'm banging away at it.”

She was on her side reading something, probably a P.D. James mystery novel, on her small Kindle, her belly obviously showing but otherwise taut, not quite pretty but “very easy on the eyes,” as he described her to friends and associates.

“You're never in a good mood when you come home from campaigning, so I bought a really nice bottle of Rioja today. Have some. And bring me up a glass of club soda with lime.”

“I saw Dad today.”

“Why, is something wrong?”

“I'd say so. The whole campaign. But something just fell into my lap today.”

“Oh, is Ann Cronin-Reynolds about to be indicted?”

“There's this woman from Lincoln, she's on the Conservation Commission, and she basically wants the town to declare its independence from the state.”

“A new American Revolution? Yeah, that's just what you need to hear.”

“She's onto something. There's a strategy there for winning the primary.”

Alicia sat up, knocking the Kindle to the floor.

Chapter Ten

Julia was on the phone, wanting to get together to go over some things for tomorrow night's Commission meeting.

“I just saw the agenda,” said Miranda, “and he's put on this item about repairs for the Pierce House. Twenty-one thousand dollars for roof repairs?”

“It's been kicking around for months. We thought we could put it off another year.”

“That's 5% of our budget.”

“I know.”

“I've always thought we should sell it. Why can't we?”

“I don't think we can. It's in our charter.”

“The charter says conserve as much as we can. And this white elephant is making that harder.”

“So, what are you proposing?”

“Let's meet at the office at 1:30.”

“What kind of computer do you have?” asked Miranda

“You mean at home?”

“Yes, a Mac or a PC?”

“I have a Mac,” said Julia. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, I want to show you some documents. I'm going to put them on a thumb drive so you can take them home when we're done.”

Miranda and Julia met as planned in the Town Hall meeting room. As Miranda continued to explain, Julia became convinced that the Pierce House could be sold and no more money should be spent to repair it. It was so obvious a solution to their long-term fiscal problems that Julia blamed herself for not having thought of it years ago.

As they were about to leave Town Hall, Miranda pulled the thumb drive from her hunter green handbag and handed it to Julia.

“Don't forget this. I'm putting together some images for a PowerPoint presentation I'd like to give to the Commission. Basically, this is what Lincoln would look like if we had to downsize our zoning over the next ten years.”

“Interesting, I'll look at it tonight.”

“I'd like to keep this between us for now. Is that alright?”

“Of course.”

“I'm going to put out a feeler to Anthony Zenni and see what he thinks of the property.”

“You know him?”

Miranda nodded.

Everyone at least knew of him. Zenni was the high-profile President of New England Properties, one of the largest developers in the area and a local media celebrity.

“Karl won't go for this,” Julia demurred. “You realize that, don't you? He would have to be persuaded we need the money and have no other option, which isn't the case.”

“The man just doesn't understand that leadership means leading.”

“I guess not. He'd say that's reckless and possibly violates the charter.”

“Which is to say he won't lead down any path that isn't well trod,” Miranda said.

“That's a good way of putting it. Why are you taking us down another new path right away?”

“The budget is on the agenda. Would you have me ignore it until next year?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“I almost wish I could do that.”

Chapter Eleven

Miranda drove into downtown and pulled into the garage of One New England Center, a 1990s high-rise across the street from the Quincy Market, a huge urban mall that represented everything she disliked about the recent development of Boston. Her early memories of the city were of businessmen like her father going to work in gray stone buildings by a polluted harbor. It was completely devoid of glitz but it was distinctive. After Bryn Mawr she had worked as an Assistant Editor at
The Atlantic
magazine, where everyone sneered at the developers who were trying to demolish the old buildings. But here she was going to see one of the most successful developers in the city, the man responsible for this very un-Boston building, to enlist him in her cause.

She took a garage elevator to the main floor, went to the elevator bank for floors forty-one to sixty-two, and caught a glance of Ted McFarland, a partner at Adams & Threlkeld, one of the prominent downtown law firms. He was one of Archer's oldest friends, and a slyly manipulative force in their lives who popped up whenever things needed intervention. He was on the phone with her within an hour of her and Archer's receiving a letter from Longwood six years ago requiring her to appear at a hearing to determine whether she knew anything about a missing pair of diamond earrings last seen in the ladies' locker room by Jane Pierson, whom Miranda had quarreled with and ridiculed for years. And after Miranda had been caught slashing the tire of one of her rivals on the Wang Center board, and the man threatened to report it to the police, Ted dissuaded him. Archer wrote a $5,000 check and it was forgotten.

Ted's advice always skewed toward Archer's interests, to minimize conflict and potential embarrassment. When he came to their home, he would hand Miranda a tasteful gift, a bottle of her favorite Bordeaux or a box of truffles, and would then proceed to stab her, gracefully, in the back. Archer considered him and his trophy wife, Elsa, twenty years his junior, good friends. Ted was one of the few people who actually instilled fear in her.

She arrived in the New England Properties reception area, which opened onto a breathtaking view of the harbor.Rows of framed photos of commercial developments covered every inch of the wall space. When she told the receptionist she had an appointment with Mr. Zenni, she was immediately taken to a waiting area deeper into the suite. Presently, a door opened and Zenni stared directly into her eyes.

“And you must be Miranda Dalton from Lincoln,” he said with a smile. She immediately noticed his too-perfectly-white teeth and lean physique. He was in superb shape for a fifty-five-year-old, and she figured he worked out three times a week with a trainer and had a mistress.

“Mr. Zenni,” she said while standing up, “I'm honored you fit me in on such short notice.”

“Carla Ainsley tells me you don't waste time. So I'm assuming you have something I should listen to.”

Carla was on the Tennis Committee of Longwood, and had been variously a friend and an obstacle to Miranda over the last fifteen years. Zenni had done his homework, and Miranda had to assume he could get Carla on the phone, or just about anyone else he wanted to talk to in the state. He escorted her into his spacious office with even more expansive views of the harbor and an entire section of a wall that alternated digital images of two teenagers, presumably his, with images of estates she recognized from Edgartown and Chilmark, two of her favorite summer spots. There was no wife.

“This is most inviting.”

“Please take a seat,” he said and pointed toward the couch at the opposite end of the office from his desk.

When they were seated and he had taken the measure of her face, he asked what it was she had on her mind.

“Well, I'm on the Conservation Commission, which you presumably know, and I just don't believe Lincoln needs two museums.”

“I didn't realize it had a second one, other than the DeCordova.”

“We do. The Pierce family left us their eleven-acre estate on the condition we preserve it. I'm all for preservation but it's a drain on our conservation budget. I think the property would make an extraordinary venue for high-end weddings and corporate events. I looked at your properties very carefully, and your firm doesn't own anything like that. Consider the possibilities that Lincoln can offer.”

He leaned back and stared up at the ceiling momentarily and then back at her like a laser.

“What's your price?”

“I'm speaking only for myself at the moment. The full Commission has not vetted this. But I would be quite pleased to enthusiastically back a proposal to sell the estate for $14 million with a covenant that its overall character will be preserved.”

She widened her eyes and leaned toward him.

“Off the record, there are a lot of ways you could build small structures like a gazebo and tasteful fountains to enhance the overall aesthetic. I know one of the best landscape architects in the world. He works for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. And there's no way in hell we're going to reject anything he proposes. I have this vision for the place.”

She spoke for five minutes about how it could look at sunrise on a summer day with the right shades of azure and ecru, and how his videographer could make a breathtaking promotional tour of the estate as an introduction to a “sub-brand” of “exurban” properties.

Zenni nodded and scribbled notes on a pad. Then he pulled his smartphone from his suit pocket and punched in some numbers.

“Do you think the town would allow summer concerts?”

“Classical or jazz, yes.”

He picked up the phone on the table and touched a button.

I'd like to order in lunch for Mrs. Dalton and myself. We'll have lobster salads from Legal Sea Foods.”

He glanced over at Miranda. She nodded.

“Wine?” he asked her.

“Certainly.”

“And a split of that Pouilly-Fuissé I enjoyed, the 2008, remember?”

“Oh God no!”

“Why not?”

“I've never had a white wine that didn't remind me of Champagne. And I've never had a Champagne that didn't remind me of aging vinegar and rubbing alcohol.”

“What would you prefer?”

“A rosé from the Umbria region, before 2004.”

“Done,” he said and repeated her request. “And if they don't have it, then a bottle of the best Italian sparkling water.”

She knew he'd go for it. He was a climber, like her, who'd spent his career buying properties in all the toniest places to gain entrée, which came at a heavy price. He'd been turned down for membership at Longwood in the late '80s but persisted. When he'd made his fourth fortune in South End brownstones, his application was accepted. He chose not to join. Feelings at the Club were still raw. Longwood memberships, like dinner invitations at Buckingham Palace, were not declined. And when someone like Helen Mirren did just that, they had long attained what they had sought. Zenni was basically there at the pinnacle of his profession. He'd made his fortune several times over and could pursue those avenues that interested him even if they were not the most lucrative. Lincoln had prestige but didn't have the quick upside of waterfront property. Yet he wanted it. He was still looking to climb. Miranda gradually turned the conversation to schools. His son was at Andover.

“Can he get into Harvard?”

“Probably not. Do you know the odds for a white male from the Boston area?”

“I know. But you did it.”

He was flattered, and she knew all too well that affirmative action, like any number of developments of the last generation, had shattered their world.

“I couldn't get in today.”

“But Harvard isn't what it used to be. It's for the world now. It's not a Boston place.”

“I agree,” he said. “And Boston isn't Boston anymore. If it were, we'd be sitting in the old Custom Tower.”

She leaned over toward him and stared into his green eyes wondering what he was like on a tennis court. Probably a wicked first serve and a deceptive second with top spin.

“And neither of us wants to be in that ugly old building. But we want it preserved so we can gaze out this window and say this is a unique city.”

Chapter Twelve

Julia and Karl were in his study, a comfortable wood-paneled room with books and papers piled on his desk and the coffee table. He had a few framed photos of himself with legal luminaries Elliot Richardson, Derek Bok and Elena Kagan. Otherwise, there was nothing to relieve the oppressively serious feeling Julia always had when she met him there. He didn't know her except as a colleague and had no desire to. She'd asked him to meet her at her home a few times, and he'd declined. It was always here or at Town Hall.

She had explained Miranda's proposal to sell the Pierce estate.

“And what would New England Properties do with it?”

“It would make it an elegant hall for corporate events. They even want to have classical music concerts in the summer.”

“We already have a summer concert series at the DeCordova.”

“Alright, so we'll have two. Maybe we can alternate between classical and jazz.”

“And New England Properties is a big developer, just what Miranda has told us to avoid.”

“They build high-end tasteful residences on Beacon Hill and the waterfront and Nantucket.”

“That's right, she's the discerning visionary. She wants development, just the right type.”

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